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Come Rain Or Shine- A Midsummer To Remember

Photo credits- @adriennebjorkman

As the sun makes its climb to its highest point in the sky we are reminded that it’s almost midsummer for the northern hemisphere. Let’s make full use of this opportunity to delve into the history of the midsummer festival.

Firstly, a bit of clarification- what is the difference between the summer solstice, midsummers, and the equinox?

The summer solstice is the longest day and shortest night in the calendar year. This is when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky. This occurs twice a year, once in the northern hemisphere and once in the southern hemisphere. For the northern hemisphere this day always falls on the 21st June (20th June for leap years). Of course, the length of the day or night doesn’t change; what is being described here is the longest amount of daylight hours. From this point forwards the northern hemisphere can expect the days to gradually get shorter as the sunset occurs earlier.

The science behind this is linked to the tilt in the Earth’s axis. At the point of the summer solstice the Earth’s axial tilt is towards the sun.

Of course, there is also a winter solstice which occurs also occurs twice a year, once in the northern hemisphere and once in the southern hemisphere. The winter solstice for the southern hemisphere will fall on the same day as the summer solstice for the northern hemisphere, and vice versa. This is when the Earth’s axis is tilted away from the sun and the southern hemisphere experience their shortest day (or shortest amount of daylight hours) and longest night before the days get progressively longer.

Midsummer, however, is the period of time around the summer solstice. Simply put midsummer is the middle of summer. Whilst the summer solstice will always fall on the same day midsummer refers to the celebrations which occur during the solstice period, or in honour of the solstice (20th June- 24th June). For example, this year there is a midsummer celebration being held in London on the 24th June.

The equinox is something else entirely. This refers to the day in the year when the amount of daylight hours and dark hours are approximately the same. This occurs twice a year in late March and September for both the southern and northern hemisphere.

The midsummer celebration is always held near or around the summer solstice. Although there are links between midsummer and Christianity, and there is a solstice celebration within Christianity with connections to St John the Baptist, midsummer is a pagan festivity.

Midsummer is celebrated in many places around the world, such as Sweden, Denmark and Norway. There is such an emphasis placed on this celebration that it is a public holiday in Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Midsummer celebrations are usually known as midsummer, or midsommar in Swedish. This day is also referred to as the feast of St John the Baptist, or St Hans day in Norway and Denmark.

Midsummer is an ancient celebration. Historically it marked the midpoint of the growing season, halfway between planting and harvesting. This celebration has roots in farming and agriculture. It also is known as a celebration of the start of the summer season.

In Sweden the midsummer, or midsommar, festivities begin on midsummer’s eve with music, dancing and bonfires. The atmosphere is lively, vivacious and effervescent. Midsummer must be celebrated in the countryside, surrounded by trees, lakes and fields. The full immersion in the natural world is essential. Flower garlands are made and worn, and a maypole, also embellished with leaves and blooms, is put up for more games and dancing.

Midsummer is a social event, it is about spending time with family, friends, and meeting new people. The celebration is grounded in the idea of sharing the festivities, everything is done as a group. It is a beautiful illustration of the way in which people can come together and unite. A show of solidarity sparks by the summer solstice.

Food is central to the celebration. Some of the traditional foods that are served are potatoes with dill and chives and pickled herring. Often barbeques are had during midsummer, roasting an array of foods from meat to fish, vegetables or fruit. Another key component related to the meal is the notorious strawberry cake; the perfect fresh, fruity and light dessert for this sweltering summer’s day.

Midsummers is acclaimed as a celebration of love, friendship, and fertility.


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